Ireland's start to the European Championship was not what Galaxy striker Robbie Keane hoped for.
Mario Mandzukic scored two goals to lead Croatia to a 3-1 victory in the Group C opener in Poznan, Poland, leaving the Irish in a difficult position to advance to the knockout stage.
Ireland, which entered its first major tournament in a decade with a 14-game unbeaten streak, is last in the group after the opening matches and has games left against the last two World Cup champions, Thursday against Italy and next Monday against defending Euro titlist Spain. The top two teams in the group move on to the quarterfinals.
If Ireland fails to advance, Keane is expected to return to the Galaxy in time for the June 23 game against Vancouver at Home Depot Center. It is unlikely he'd be back for the June 20 match at Real Salt Lake.
Italy and Spain drew, 1-1, in a sparkling encounter featuring brilliantly executed sequences for goals three minutes apart in the second half by the Azzurri's Antonio Di Natale and Spain's Cesc Fabregas.
Keane, the Irish captain, went just 71 minutes before manager Giovanni Trappatoni, looking for an offensive spark, pulled him off in favor of Shane Long. Keane was denied a clear penalty kick in the 63rd minute by Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers; televised replays indicated Gordon Schildenfeld fouled him from behind.
Ireland was unfortunate on all three Croatian goals. Mandzukic scored in the third minute from an odd header following a deflected cross, and Nikica Jelavic was in an offside position when he scored the winner just before halftime, except the ball came off a shanked clearance attempt by the Irish. Mandzukic's second goal, three minutes into the second half, was a header that hit the right post and ricocheted in off diving goalkeeper Shay Given.
Sean St. Ledger netted Ireland's goal, a header from a free kick in the 19th minute.